Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 173, January 2020
 
Book Review: The Solution at Hand
by Robert Wearing
Review by J. Norman Reid

This small volume, The Solution at Hand, is not a book that Robert Wearing ever wrote. Rather, it contains 157 of the best jigs, fixtures and tools that Wearing published in the English magazine, Woodworker, during the 20th century. The title for this collection was created by the folks at Lost Art Press, its publisher, to fit its hand-picked contents. But despite those facts, the book is Wearing all the way, and at his best. Pungent descriptions of valuable jigs, fixtures and tools are accompanied by Wearing’s own hand-drawn illustrations. Together, they bring the construction of these shop aids within the grasp of any woodworker.

Hard bound on quality paper, this 182-page volume is built to last, to be used in the shop and endure the hard use its contents merit. Charmingly for North American readers, the book retains both English spellings and the names for tools and processes. But fear not: a glossary at the book’s opening offers a translation for the few places where confusion might otherwise arise.

The book is divided into four major sections: holding devices, marking aids, tools, and cramps, that is, clamps.

First, holding devices. The basic tool is, of course, a sturdy workbench. Wearing offers a suggested design. But most of this section is devoted to specific devices to be used on whatever bench you’ve got. One offering is a planing grip system that’s built into the benchtop as a permanent fixture. Other holding devices include a vise-held planing stop, shop-made holdfasts, carpeted jaws to fit inside a vise to cushion finished work, a tapered jaw insert, jaws to hold round stock like dowels in a vertical position, cradle jaws to hold square or rectangular stock for cutting octagonal profiles with handplanes, leather-lined jaws to hold saws for filing, and devices to hold long or wide boards for planing.

But wait, there’s more! Wearing describes a block to hold a board for mortising, a sticking board, a method for holding chair seats, a device to hold small and thin components for planing, cradles to plane boards into octagons, hexagons, pentagons, and triangles, a jig to cut miter keys, a pusher to fit ferrules on turned handles, a means to hold box shapes such as drawers, aids for fitting large doors, an innovative fixture for gluing up very thin boards, a dovetailing vise and angle brackets for use in dovetailing.

Whew!

Next come marking aids. These include a straightedge, diagonal laths to assure casework is square, a wooden square, depth gauges for measuring turnings such as bowls, panel gauges, a mortise gauge, a pencil gauge for curved work, a gauge for tapers, a pitch stick to set chair leg angles, a holder to mark cylinders, curve marking devices, tools to use for leveling table and chair legs, dovetail markers, dowel joint markers, and a veneer strip cutter for chess boards.

The third section addresses shop-made tools. Included here are an oil pad intended as a parking place for handplanes as well as to oil them, winding sticks, a cabinet scraper sharpening aid, a scraper plane sharpening holder, scratch stocks, a cutter like a mortise gauge for making inlay grooves, a circular groove cutter, a sliding bevel, a spokeshave blade holder for sharpening, a carver’s mallet, a plow plane fence modification, an improved shooting board, a handle for a shooting plane that functions like Lie-Nielsen’s hot dog, miter boxes and blocks, a tool for mitered dovetails, a device to use when handplaning thin strips and very small components, a modified handplane for use on plastic laminates, a hook installer for use to screw in cup hooks or eyes, a dowel cutter, dowel plates, a dowel groover, saw filing aid, wood and machine screw gauges, awls, tools for producing circular frames, a mullet—used to test the fit of grooves in place of using a whole finished component—a scribing knife, center finder, aid for drilling holes in corners, drilling vises, a process for recutting saw teeth, a saw sharpening vise, painting sticks that function like painter’s pyramids, carpet blocks to protect finished work, using transparent adhesive tape to protect against unwanted glue adhesion, and finally, a method for hardening and tempering metal work.

The final section addresses clamping devices. These range from hand screws of various descriptions to board clamps, a small job vise, clamps to use when sculpting workpieces, lever arm clamps, fixed clamps of varying sizes, carcase clamping systems, panel clamps for drawer bottoms, a picture frame clamp, miter clamps, a correction device for cutting miters in boxes and picture frames, a hanging rack for sash clamps, and jointing clamps for edge jointing boards.

Taken all together, these devices make a quite comprehensive set of tools with wide utility in any woodshop. Of course, you can purchase many of these devices, but the DIY woodworker will have a field day (or many!) making them for him or herself, both to show off their ingenuity and also to save some of that hard-earned legal tender. Hand tool woodworkers will especially find the wealth of work holding devices of great value. This is not a book that armchair woodworkers will prize; it’s a practical set of tools and a shop aid that’s intended to be used at the workbench.

The ideas in this book make it a valuable resource for all woodworkers. I’m very pleased to have a copy as a part of my own woodworking library.


Find out more and purchase The Solution at Hand
at Highland Woodworking


J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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